The mocking, fragmented grey smudges that dapple the horizon of this vastly rotating sphere. Pristine blue and green hues slowly consumed by virulent forms of ‘conscious’ life. The infection of life spreads, now at near seven billion. How much longer will we populate? Spread? Further our selfish, absurd goals? Until the core of this cosmic apple is rotten. Until the bosom that birthed us vomits and convulses in sickness. How can misanthropy and disdain not lie at the core of every reasonably enlightened individual? Thrall revel in this hate – the sole source of positive overcoming has its base in truth, in negativity: ‘A life in denial of reality is the truly negative life. What could be more negative than living a lie? What could be more positive than engaging with the real world? I see Thrall as part of this reality-embracing conversation’. The waxing melancholy angst that lies at the heart of Thrall’s latest full length, Vermin to the Earth, is a grand negation of the human condition. This does not equate to the naïve meanderings so oft cited in Black Metal spheres though. Underlying the cavernous hate directed at man is a grand sense of belonging: ‘there is a harsh beauty to Thrall’s music. I find some of it quite beautiful. If you feel similar, you might find some solace in it. That’s one of the true joys of life, isn’t it? Feeling like someone gets you? That you’re not completely alone and atomised in the world? I know I really like it when I find people who I have something in common with, but it doesn’t happen enough, I fear’.
As Camus said, ‘The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth’.
Thus the misanthropy on play rarely deteriorates into contradiction. Self-loathing in the depressive black metal sense is something Thrall transcend with ease. Thrall is merely ‘voicing some ugly truths that very few people care to acknowledge, lest they be unable to live with them. My disdain is for homo sapiens as a species, but obviously there are people I value – 3 of whom are in my band. I have reservations about procreating and adding to the overpopulation of the planet as much as I would like to be a parent. These concerns are not just the domain of the lunatic fringe. See David Attenborough’s closing words in the BBC’s ‘The Life of Mammals’ for his thoughts on human over population, or Margaret Atwood’s novels exploring a plausible, not too distant future and downfall of humankind, (both of which are worth a read)’. This is reflected heavily in the music too, where a genuine sentiment of belief slowly infiltrates the discordant arpeggios, bombastic drum work and stridency of vocal delivery. A band in the ‘thrall’ of their experience of the world, conveyed with utmost clarity both philosophically and aesthetically.
The idea that we can find some solace in the beliefs of others, that we are not completely alone in this feverish, despondent vacuum of consciousness is responsible for my continued affinity with Black Metal. A similar story lies at the heart of Thrall’s newest opus as Em elaborates. ‘We were living in Japan teaching English. Perhaps I was having a “bad” influence on my class; or perhaps I met a true misanthrope who had been “lurking” in my advanced class – who can say? I set the homework topic “What would you do to improve the Earth?” – most of the answers were “I would save the dolphins,“ I would teach people to cook” – the usual vapidity. We get to Katsu’s turn, and he pulls out his homework and reads: “I am not naive enough to think that humans can improve the Earth. Humans are vermin to the Earth, and when the last human dies, the Earth will breathe a sigh of relief.” Later on I asked Katsu if it would be OK if I used his words in a song, and he thought it was hilarious and said “fine! But your song will be shit!”’.
Vermin to the Earth is a colossal document of eradication and anger that seeps under the skin. The bands debut effort, ‘Away from the Haunts of Man’, was more direct and punishing in its approach. The new effort progresses with subdued force and focuses much more on conjuring atmosphere and emotive response. The production is clearer without ever veering into the dreaded realm of overproduction. The difference is intentional, ‘Vermin was written as a cohesive body of work – a thematically ‘tight’ album. We deliberately simplified song arrangements, slowed tempos and slashed the number of tracks to be included…We also finally found a microphone that could handle the volume of my voice. This meant that I rather than having to stand metres away from the mic, I could hold the microphone, preserving more sonic detail, and hopefully imbuing the vocals with more emotion and an unsettling intimacy. Rhythmically, this album has a lot more ‘swing’ and some of the songs have different tempos worked into them. The atmosphere and content of the album was our highest priority. A lot of the album developed subconsciously. At the risk of sounding pretentious, many of the compositions and lyrics came about through the repetition of a cumulative stream of consciousness process’.
When it comes to describing the sound and feel of Vermin to the Earth, it seems more appropriate to approach it from the angle of the subject matter. Overall the album keeps tempos slow, sometimes morphing into hard-hitting riffs that made the debut so remarkable, other times adopting a median where note progressions teeter aloft binary beats. Thrall remain tethered to the orthodox shackles of the genre, finding their niche among the violent and the brooding. There is a riff that comes half way into the final track, Vita Vacuus Voluntas, that sings of such inspired conviction. A monument of a track that serves to close the album with my highest opinion intact. Thrall are proof that the orthodox canon of Black Metal is very much alive. As outsider credentials seep into this rarified form of art and academia announces its arrival, Thrall continue to negate, ‘there is something inexplicable, perhaps attributable to a “spiritual” or “transcendental” plane about playing mind-meltingly loud, physical music. But I don’t need to read someone else’s outpourings about playing loud music. I play loud music!’.
This Australian outfit have come a long way since our interview with them last year. Thrall are the heart and soul of Black Metal in the 21st century. They can compose organic sounding hymns that explore negativity with philosophical underpinnings that don’t border on self-glorifying, chin stroking nonsense. Vermin to the Earth is a craft that comes with LURKER’s highest seal of approval. Vermin to the Earth is available through Obsidian Records in Australia and Moribund in the US. Below are the remnants of an interview conducted in the fall of 2011.
What influences are at play on the new album?
E: Modern poetry, Jihadis, industrial wastelands, dead languages, and Japanese students.
T: Yeah, both prose and poetry. Roy Batty is in there somewhere. The musical influences are fairly disparate. It always amuses me when reviewers attribute elements of our sound to bands that we haven’t listened to. I subsequently end up listening to these bands to see if I can hear any similarities, or not – often not. One such review got me onto Armagedda (thanks for that). Much to my bewilderment, ‘Vermin’ has been compared to Deathspell Omega in several recent reviews and interviews.
E: Yeah! What’s that about, eh? Aren’t they French progressive metal? I don’t get it.
T: It’s a pretty lazy comparison in my opinion. They’re not a band that I would have cited as one my musical influences anyway. I suppose that reference points are different for every listener or critic based on their own experiences, associations and biases. Other than the obvious examples from within the metal canon, the Jesus Lizard is one of my enduring favourite bands and a musical influence. They are such a visceral sonic-entity: lurching, pulsing and resonating in an often copied, but seldom replicated manner. They have a really interesting use of dissonance and rhythmic structures.
How do songs translate in live circles, and how has the general response to Vermin to the Earth been?
E: We’ve been playing the songs from ‘Vermin’ since 2009 live. There were only ever three songs from ‘Haunts’ that we played live with me on drums (Robe of Flesh, Spit in the Eye, Black Hearts… Burn!). Getting the album out finally feels like putting Thy Plagues to bed and actually getting on with Thrall proper.
T: Live crowds were occasionally confused, by not being able to purchase an album containing the songs they had just heard. Who wants to see, let alone play, the same set over and over for years on end between releases? Not me. We’re in the process of incorporating several songs from our third album (Aokigahara Jukai) into the live-set at the moment.
We are also able to translate all the songs far more successfully due to the fact that we finally have a full four-piece line up.
E: Previously we had been only able to play one of the guitar parts in songs that had been written with two or three in mind. It was unsatisfying in some regards, as we always heard the vacuum where certain musical phrases should have been. Now we are able to play all the parts and it has given the live sound a satisfying density and complexity. The response has been pretty good.
Care to tell us about the development of Thrall since the early days of ‘Away from the Haunts of Men?’
E. Thy Plagues started as Tom’s bedroom solo project. He used my Yamaha MTX-4 to make the most fucked out, mad drum-machine black metal I’ve ever heard. Wild fucking noise – howling, thunderous sounds – heavy like rhinos on ketamine – but kind of agile, swooping, and dangerous. Tom played some demo stuff to our friend Alex from Ruins, and he asked us if we wanted to play a show with ABC Weapons. To which we couldn’t say no, really – ABC Weapons, Ruins and Psycroptic – just such a massive first show. So, Tom figured I could play bass and he could play guitar and we’d do these couple of shows with the drum machine. That’s how we met Trent.
T: Thy Plagues was never meant to be anything other than my own self-indulgent musical roughhousing. When it became clear that Thy Plagues ‘could’ be anything more than that, everything changed for me. Now there was a reason to strive to improve the band. That’s the path I’ve been on since that moment.
E: When Tom and Trent started working on ‘Haunts’ we didn’t really know how it was all going to pan out. With each layer of the recording it became more and more apparent that what was being produced was of a far higher quality than anything we had thought we were capable of – which in turn changed the scope of what we thought was possible for the release. Mixing took a long time – Trent had other competing concerns. And it took quite some time for it to be picked up from the slush piles of the labels that released it. That’s why an album we recorded in 2007 wasn’t released until 2010. ‘Vermin’ was hardly an easy birth either. We finished all the tracking in 2010 but it isn’t until now that we get to let it off its chain. I’m very excited to be finally catching up with ourselves as far as what we’re writing and recording finally being contemporary.
Which kind of brings us up to now. We’ve got a bass player. Leigh, my old good mate from Hobart. We used to live together back in South Hobart in 2001. We then recruited Ramez from ABC Weapons to play second guitar. It sounds good live. For the next album we’ll use the full live line up, I reckon. Record in a studio.
T: We have studios in mind but not the dollars. It’s difficult when you have to do everything in your spare time with no budget.
E: If money was no object we’d be off to see Steve Albini or Billy Anderson to get them to pull us some fat fucking sounds.
In our previous interview, comments were made that alluded to humanistic behaviour and their equivalence to viruses. Natural selection at play. Thrall strikes me as being a rational entity, accepting the approved truths laid down by science (like natural selection). What do you make of the universe then? The cosmos? Sure, it strengthens the case against man – but is there not a kind of melancholy beauty to the scale and scope? Is there any kind of existential joy that can be drawn from the understanding and awe science alone provides, like how bizarre it is to be conscious at all? The vast machinations of the galaxies? We are a way for the cosmos to know itself?
E: I must say, I have enjoyed these occasions speaking with you, Alex. You have alluded to some very interesting ideas of your own. It’s nice to feel like your interviewer (a) has taken the time to think about the questions and (b) has well-composed views of their own.
Have you ever seen the sky from the Southern Hemisphere? There are so many more stars in the sky looking in the direction that we do here. Staring up at the dark in the freezing fucking cold, I used to watch the auroras skitter across the sky at my mother’s house. That’s how I always remember my home in Tasmania.
T: Yeah the “melancholy beauty to the scale and scope” resonates with me. Thrall’s fourth album will likely explore a closely related theme but I don’t want to give too much away at this time. Sentience is in itself pretty bloody amazing. Consciousness is somehow more than the sum total of so many electro-chemical processes.
We are finite beings, of finite perception in an infinite universe. I believe that any product of human endeavour (such as science, philosophy or religion) is ultimately finite, and ultimately inadequate when it comes to understanding the universe. We are fundamentally bound to have an ant’s perspective, on something so vast in scale and duration in relation to ourselves, that it defies our capacity to comprehend it in totality. Thrall’s message is from one wasp to another, within the hive yet apart from the other drones. Ha ha. The ‘hive mind’ or ‘hive mentality’ was something that fascinated me when we were in Japan.
E: The cultural conservatism and sacrifice of the individual for the sake of the collective/company/country is an enduring commentary made by many outsiders in Japan.
T: I clearly remember lying awake in bed as a child, not being able to reconcile the finite and the infinite. Everything I could think of had a termination point, yet something always came after this termination point. The universe literally kept me up at night and still does! Empirical enquiry is the most valid approach to life that I can think of. I was always fascinated by natural science. Under more favourable circumstances I would have liked to be an entomologist or an evolutionary anthropologist.[Ed: Note the background on the cover of Vermin to the Earth! A beautiful nightscape of cosmic glory!]
On the concept of Black Metal itself. Can there be a definition?
E: Another interesting question. The cipher of the black metal lexicon (infernal hails!), the search for authenticity (trve, kvlt) and rejection of inauthentic (mallcore – ha ha)… combined with the aesthetic elements (corpse paint, studs, etc)… there is a lot of evidence to say that black metal exists, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to put a fence around it and herd it into a definition, (particularly given that I’m by no ways Nordic, male, or criminally insane).
T: I would argue that there cannot be any singular all-encompassing definition of black metal, and nor should there be. The more constrained a social movement or art-form is, the more redundant it becomes. Labels and definitions are part and parcel of the process of co-opting social movements into the mainstream and the moderating forces of commerce. Once such a movement has a label (i.e. Dada, Cubism, Situationism, Punk, New Wave, Black Metal) the more readily it is rendered benign, commodified, rendered generic, put on the production line, and ultimately spayed like a lap-dog licking it’s masters face. Perhaps black metal died the day the term was coined? Ha ha.
What do you make of the current obsession with studying Black Metal academically. From the manifesto’s of Liturgy to the Black Metal Symposium printing journals?
T: I got about halfway through ‘Hideous Gnosis’2 but I was too depressed at the time to continue the book. The ‘scholarly corduroy crowd’ will treat black metal like a curiosity, a philosophical puzzle to be solved. Once they’ve milked the topic for all the scholarships they can get, they’ll move on, smug in the satisfaction that they explained it for the rest of us. Obviously some write due to a genuine love of the music and I can relate to that. But why is there a need to academically or philosophically legitimise black metal? Wasn’t black metal founded as an art form in opposition to society?
E: I have to admit, at first I was kind of interested in the Black Metal Symposium. Until I read some of their shit and figured out they were all wankers; as inauthentic as mallcore! I find comfort in knowing that all these intellectual trendies, hipsters and manifesto writers will move on to the next new thing before too long. They will toy with black metal, prod it like a setting jelly… And then poof! They’ll disappear, off to colonise the next sub-genre that rises and falls within their view. As for the “Lithurgian transcendental black metal manifesto:” Californian improvised psychedelic wank with blast beats, eh? What a load of shit. Look, I get it. There is something inexplicable, perhaps attributable to a “spiritual” or “transcendental” plane about playing mind-meltingly loud, physical music. But I don’t need to read someone else’s outpourings about playing loud music. I play loud music! This all reeks of hippy bullshit. I’m not about to read their manifesto. I don’t think that tosspot could write about playing black metal that could be of any use to me.
Fuck manifesto writing! How juvenile!
T: How… art school. When playing music sucks me in, I encounter a certain ‘liminal’ or ‘hypnogogic’ state, a Thrall if you will. But I’m hardly about to hang out with the Beatles and a Yogi singing I am the Walrus. I’m skeptical of positive transcendental BM, it reeks of trendy bullshit. Maybe it’s the dying breath of some kind of psychedelic revival parasitically attaching itself to the recent trendiness of black metal?
What does the future hold for Thrall?
E: More of the same, maybe something different. Working on album three, starting concept work on album four, trying to figure out what I make of all this music and stuff in the world.
T: We have 5 songs written so far for our third album ‘Aokigahara Jukai’. The album is named after a notorious forest near Mt Fuji.
E: I’d like to go somewhere else and play music to different people, but economic and logistical constraints make it pretty tricky to get out of Australia.
T: I would really love to tour Japan, Europe and North America. There are so many bands that I want to play with or just have the chance to see live.